Updated February 14, 2020
Do you ever go through the motions at work?
There are times when we know we could be doing a better job for our employers but we just don’t care.
Of course, we wouldn’t want anyone to accuse us of slacking off, so why would we ever be content doing sub-par work?
There are a couple of reasons.
I hate my job.
I’m sure you’ve had a job you hated. I’ve had a few myself. It’s a miserable existence when you have to get up and go to a job you utterly despise. Yet we’re told “work isn’t supposed to be fun, that’s why they call it work.”
While that may be true, I don’t think we have to hate our jobs. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to get out of it. Finding a bad job is easy to do so it shouldn’t be that difficult to replace.
If you hesitated at that statement, then it’s possible that your job may not be as bad as you think. But hating our jobs isn’t the only reason we coast through the day, giving less-than.
You may feel that, no matter how hard you try, you just won’t get the recognition you deserve. It’s discouraging and demotivating to give the best at work only to be passed over for a raise or promotion. Failing to receive recognition for doing good work can sometimes shut us down.
In this case, it’s possible that your manager just isn’t good at being a manager. Good management is in short supply and often, the wrong people are put into leadership positions.
I ran into this situation early in my career—a job I took right out of college. I worked for one of the largest investment firms in the world. It was primarily a sales position. My manager had been hired essentially because no one else wanted to take on the responsibility. The additional pay for assuming the role wasn’t worth all the extra work that came with the job. But this guy truly enjoyed it because it gave him some authority.
Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to handle authority or manage people.
He had the same routine every day. He was a big, tall guy and reminded me of a lumbering ox as he strutted around the office. Most of us sat in open cubicles, and he loved to stand over you and read your sales numbers out loud for all to hear. He took great joy in chastising you when you were short on your goals and even made comments that your job could be on the line if you didn’t get things turned around in a hurry.
He talked down to everyone and gloated every time he had the opportunity to make someone look stupid. He claimed this was his way of tearing you down to build you back up again but in truth, the guy was just a terrible manager. No one liked him. Heck, people hated him. He was the butt of many jokes and most of the employees talked terribly about him behind his back.
After a while, I became frustrated and began to resent him. I grew tired of his criticism and felt that no matter what I did, he would find a way to make me feel and look stupid. To make a bad situation worse, I was already intimidated by Corporate America and felt tremendous pressure to prove myself as a young person out of college. My manager’s attitude toward me only amplified my insecurity.
So, I began to go through the motions.
I showed up for work every day but didn’t care about making much effort. I did just enough to get by and looked for shortcuts or to avoid work altogether. I viewed my behavior as a way of getting back at my manager for making me feel incompetent.
But unknowingly, I was giving him more ammunition to use against me.
Because I chose not to give it my best, I created more opportunities for my manager to attack me. I was sabotaging myself and helping him build a case against me that would later put my job in jeopardy. I was actually helping him prove that I was a slacker who would never be successful.
Does it matter?
Another reason we can end up demotivated and going through the motions is because we don’t think what we’re doing matters. I’ve had many mundane jobs and viewed most of them as being unimportant or irrelevant, and that it didn’t matter whether I showed up or not.
It’s true that many jobs are going to be boring and uninspiring. When you find yourself in this role of task master, you must find a way to embrace it if you’re going to continue doing it for a long period of time.
One of the best ways to do this is to find something outside of work that does have meaning and view your job as a way of subsidizing you. As an example, if you want to write a book, start writing it and put everything you’ve got into making it great. Your job can then be seen simply as a means of providing financial support as you write your book. You can even start telling people you’re a writer first and that you “also work at...”
I think you get the idea.
Many times, it will be up to each of us to create the life we want—at least to some degree—because circumstances won’t always allow us to go do whatever we want. We must find a way to do work that matters, whether we get paid for it or not.
Do it for God. And yourself.
At some point, we must develop the conviction that everything we do requires our best effort.
Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
With this verse, God is trying to help us because he understands the nature of human relationships better than anyone. Of course, you should want to do a good job for God and for your employer but that isn't always enough to convince us.
Being defiant, rebellious, or “milking the clock” won’t take you far in any area of life. It only makes you look worse. On the other hand, doing your best will make it tough for any adversary to criticize the work you do. You’ll also become more valuable in the eyes of your employer, which may translate into more money or a promotion. At the very least, it will certainly be painful to lose you because good workers are hard to find.
It may be difficult at times, but if we approach our work the right way, we can find meaning in it and feel good about ourselves in the process.